View from the sticks 

There are certain things that define you as a person, some of which are sought and some of which are less welcomed. I have a view of who I am, but I’m not too sure it always matches everyone else’s perception of me.


To give an example, I was born in Surrey. That wasn’t my fault and no-one asked for my permission. If they had, I’d have given short shrift to the idea.


When my parents moved to Swindon while I was still at primary school, I embraced the idea with enthusiastic open arms. A Wiltshire boy I was from that moment on, never to look back.


But some conversations I have with the family can be very frustrating.


Older members have been known to say something like ‘Our old coal man has moved to Ottershaw’.


‘Who?’ I might answer.


‘You remember!! Bill! Flat cap! Always whistled when he delivered’.


‘Don’t remember him’ I’ll say. ‘Anyway… where’s Ottershaw?’


‘Ottershaw?? You remember!! We used to play in the park there when we visited Auntie Eva!!!’




No amount of protestation will make them realise that I was in such short shorts I don’t have a chance of remembering, and even less interest in doing so.


That I have spent around 90% of my life in Wiltshire, counts for less than the fact I spent the first few years (the first five of which surely I’m can be expected to remember nothing at all) in a part of the country that means nothing to me.


It’s all about identity, and identity is something that I have often puzzled about when it comes to Swindon. The town seems to struggle to have a consistent view of it’s self.


And I have an idea why that is.


When I was going to school in Rodbourne, I sometimes found my classmates talking about a TV programme that I had no idea about. They’d watched something the night before which was apparently something completely different than I’d seen.


It might have been part of a series that was on every week, which I could find no evidence of.


Slowly it occurred to me that they were watching a different channel. This at a time when there were only three to choose from.


Because Swindon was served by two different TV signals, and dependent on which way your aerial pointed, you either received HTV out of Bristol, or Midlands (now Central) out of Birmingham.


And as a result, you either considered yourself in the Midlands or the West Country.


Just how could that mess with your identity?


How could even a whole town know where it was, if the east side considered itself a suburb of Birmingham, while the west thought it was just outside Bristol?


With much of Rodbourne being served by cable TV from Radio Rentals in Percy Street (‘on the pipe’ as it was known then), our house was in the minority that it received it’s TV via an aerial from the midlands, which cut me adrift from much of what my school mates were watching.


Driving a wedge like that through a town’s population polarises the views of who they think they are. It led to a dilution of identity and brought about the fact that one household could see themselves as ‘central Englanders’, while next door they were ‘West Country cousins’.


A few years ago I realise it was even worse than I thought. I discovered that my, now sadly departed, mother was watching a TV signal which covered an area from Banbury to Brighton.


Any given news item might talk about the tide times at Worthing, or someone causing havoc on their cock horse, but not a word about Freshbrook where she lived.


And what was worse was that she was quite happy about it! When asked whether she wanted it retuned to a ‘proper’, local station, she declined.


I have a theory that even now, with the plethora of satellite channels that must surely have diluted the affect of a TV mismatch with your Swindon neighbour, it accounts for why half of Swindon Town’s supporters feel their greatest rivals are Oxford United, while the other half think its Bristol City.


So, a note to my family.

I’m a Wiltshire, West Country boy. I have been for fifty years, and I haven’t allowed a misfortune at birth, or a few unfortunate years of Birmingham-based TV signals, to influence that to the contrary.